A favorite song, co-written and sung by Jennifer Rush (view on YouTube) is the “Power of Love,” a powerful rendition as much for Ms. Rush’s captivating voice as the lyrics. Probably no other subject of songs comes close to the subject of love, relationships, and the myriad stories they create. One may profess a love of country, or ideology, or religion, or lifestyle, but all fade in comparison to the power and devotion created by the bonding of two people “in love.”
What is love? At the level of basic biology, it is a surge of chemical messengers, including serotonin and dopamine, in the brain. This surge creates a feeling of positive “warmth” throughout the entire body. Just how these endorphins are triggered in the first place is more or less a mystery, which is probably a good thing because love is at least one half mystery.
But if “love” and devotion of a person or belief include fear, intimidation, or guilt, it is not love. It is control, because love does not place restrictions or set requirements. It does not condemn, seek retribution, or expect payback. It does not even seek reward, because love is its own reward.
But that doesn’t answer the question of the initial attraction in the first place. Different people are attracted to different physical characteristics, social influences, and personalities. Men tend to be tuned to visual clues while a women’s attention is more complicated. But at the primal level, it is all about finding a suitable mate that will remain true for the long haul. When a person experiences the surge of endorphins, he or she will seek to have that feeling repeated by the same person who initiated it. In a sense, it is a form of addiction, only it is driven by another individual rather than a synthetic drug.
The initial surges of endorphins in a relationship last about two years. Then reality sets in.
While the initial attraction is driven by primarily physical compatibility, a successful long-term relationship relies on honest communication, shared goals, faithfulness, and mutual respect. Love is not lost; it is just expanded to take into account the reality of two different people who are not going to agree on everything. There is no such thing as a “perfect” person; therefore, there is no such thing as a “perfect” marriage. Making a marriage last turns out to require more than the initial blast of a natural love potion.
But it is the emotional attachment that binds two people together. It is an evolutionary adaptation that came about so that children of that relationship have a better chance of survival. If that emotional-chemical bond did not exist during our species’ early development, men would be more likely to leave and women would be left to care for their children alone. During man’s early history, when we were as much prey as predator, such a scenario would have quickly ended our place on Nature’s Tree of Live. Love became the “glue” that held men and women together, and that helped ensure the survival of our species.
But there is also another gift that love bestows upon us, perhaps more psychological in nature, but critical none-the-less. It gives us a sound reason to “be in the present” and look forward to the future. While this may seem obvious since it is true for love of other activities or beliefs, it is none-the-less essential for emotional health. Consider when something or someone we love is taken away from us; for example, when a relationship falls apart, a trusted belief system is found wanting, or a spouse dies. The immediate result is shock and grief. More than just the person is gone. So, too, may go the stimulus to look forward to each day and the future. Without the present or the future to look forward to, one may begin to “live in the past,” reliving memories instead of creating new ones. Living in the past can then become the “new norm,” leading to depression and other deleterious health effects.
One must consider the wishes of the person who is lost. Would they want you to descend into despair and denial? A person who truly cared for you would want you to once again find a reason to look forward to tomorrow.
Email Terry Mejdrich at firstname.lastname@example.org.